#AE17 #SluggerReport: SF’s “snap election” to get DUP off the RHI hook, and a Mid Ulster profile

So in today’s #SluggerReport, three main points:

  • Will the DUP pay for the RHI scandal? There’s always events dear boy, but SF’s snap election eight months after the last one, helps bury it. No opposition party is ready to either exploit this story yet, or fight an election.  So too does Hamilton’s rescue plan (passed by the Assembly this week). O’Muilleoir’s belated calling of a Public Inquiry (which now take six months, not the many years he previously predicted) too.
  • The DUP’s moves as noted by David last night, show an important dynamic at work more largely in this election: ie, the lack of room for manoeuvre created by the dropping from six seats to five. Peter Weir’s technocratic ability at Education is a high ticket item as far as the party is concerned, so they’re moving him to Newtownards from Bangor where a third DUP seat is no longer viable.
  • Will Sinn Fein get a boost from Health Minister Michelle O’Neill becoming dFM? The short answer is no. The truth is that Mid Ulster it have had all the advantage it’s going to get out of Martin McGuinness’s long tenure there both as dFM and as the local MP. Despite carrying a 2.8 quotas, it looks like their third MLA is for the chop. Looking at last year’s figures, it looks like it’s likely to be Linda Dillon.

More, Mid Ulster. Mid Ulster is literally the bit in the middle of Northern Ireland bounded in south by FST, and to the north East Londonderry. Since 1997 this has been a solid nationalist seat so at Westminster time Francie Molloy took nearly 50% of all the votes.

It’s made up from two counties, east Tyrone which has Cookstown at its centre, and a few miles up the road and across the county line in south Co Derry (or Londonderry as you prefer) Magherafelt plays a similar role. Each is a hub for schools, shops and public services.

Aside from these two centres which have very small nationalist majorities, there’s not much mixing. Coalisland and Bellaghy barely contain any Protestants these days. So in a very real sense the two communities behave very much like electorates in separate countries.

With five seats, the three main Unionist parties have enough for two quotas, leaving just three seats for four retiring Nationalist MLAs. No matter how SF balance the ticket the longest sitting MLA Patsy McGlone is on 0.9 of a quota and will quickly hoover up transfers to nip across the line early on.

Even with a perfectly balanced ticket starved of transfers third the SF candidate is likely to pipped for seat by the UUP’s Sandra Overend. For that reason the third candidate will likely to be a candidate on paper only.

It’s the price the bigger parties have to pay in some areas, like the DUP with Weir in North Down. The question will be proportionality across the board.

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  • Skibo

    If SF can return to the heady days of over 51%, they can hold their three seats. Question will be will Unionism lose a seat to Nationalism. The challenge is there. It would require a return of over 65% turnout. Is Mid-Ulster up to it?

  • Westie tyrone

    all depends on turn out ,60,000,off the register ,can see it some how ,same old ,results ,

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Snap election to get DUP off the hook? erm, did you not tell us yesterday that there are IRA bogeymen in charge, directing the SF leadership? Does that mean you are now saying that it was those same IRA bogeyman who directed the SF Assembly team to save Arlene and the DUP by forcing an election? Confused.com

  • Neil

    I’d have thought a quick election went against the DUP. Leave things too long and the fall from memory, melting into the numerous financial scandals proven or otherwise alleged to have DUP involvement. RHI is front and centre at the minute and as yet the only party being linked to that is the DUP – others may join them in time, but in time for this election? Probably not. The proof will be in the pudding, certainly some people are saying that many DUP voters have had enough, on the flip side, anecdotally more people seem to be saying they will vote for SF than I have seen in years past. It should at least, for the first time in years, be interesting.

  • mickfealty

    There’s very little time/space to create a new dynamic in the campaign.

  • mickfealty

    Two/three weeks out will be the test. They’re too far ahead in Mid Ulster to be caught/punished.

  • Neil

    Unless there really has been a major sea change obviously. Which on balance there probably hasn’t, but you never know.

  • mjh

    Certainly if McGlone retains his 0.91 of a quota he will be re-elected. But you may have over-emphasised his safety. He only hoovers up enough transfers to hit quota on the last count, with a surplus of about 70.

    He is therefore vulnerable to a swing of 1.4% of the total vote (2.2% of the nationalist vote). That would mean just under 10% of his first preference voters switching to SF. Indeed if the SF candidates were able to improve their balancing he could fall to a smaller swing.

    I’m not predicting that will happen. For all I know the swing could go against SF. But it is one to keep an eye on.

  • the keep

    This election there will be no sea change the next one in 7 months time…

  • mickfealty

    Statistically I’m sure you’re right about the swing. But SF would have to have the perfectly balanced ticket as wel as the swing to do it.

  • mjh

    The 1.4% swing is calculated on SF having the same balance as last year. There is, however, very little room for them to improve it.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I think the dynamic has been created in SF sacking Arlene and throwing the DUP out of government. I often here the term ‘decapitating’ in politics here. SF have surely decapitated Unionism in this instance. The question is will the electorate award them or punish them. But the dynamic is certainly there if Nationalists want to gather around it.

  • mickfealty


    Aye, right.

  • mickfealty

    Overend is the farthest from home so on a good day they could catch her I guess.

  • mjh

    Yes. That would take a 1.5% swing from UUP to SF. Although as we all know swings from unionist to nationalist, and vice versa, are significantly more sluggish than those between nationalists or between unionists.

  • Skibo

    Mick, perhaps it is wishful thinking but a get an under swell within Republican voters both past and present that Nationalism will not tolerate being pushed aside any more. Whether it will all result in an increased SF only vote or include the SDLP vote but people who I have never heard talk about voting before are looking for their registration papers.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Just Anthony thanks.

  • Skibo

    Has any decision been made on who will stand for DUP? There was problems in the camp last time and young McCrea lost out to Keith Buchanan!

  • mickfealty

    And the trends are going in the wrong direction.

  • Teddybear

    Everyone seems to be assuming that people will vote the same way they did in 2016. There could be swings away from DUP & SF

    Anyone here from Alliance to speak for why they’ve abandoned west of the Bann?

  • mickfealty

    That was straight of Robin’s “I have a dream” playbook.

  • Paddy Reilly

    To be totally certain of 2 quotas Unionists need to win a third of the vote, yet the Protestant proportion of the population is only 30.78%. Nevertheless Unionist (DUP + UUP + TUV) 1st preferences were 34.6% of the vote last year.

    I imagine that after years of turning out en masse to get Martin McGuinness in, Nationalist voters have got rather slack. Either that, or the tally of Catholics on the census includes a number of Timorese and Poles who do not vote. I would be expecting a UUP loss here.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Its quite normal to bite back after being stung on a nerve so i will not hold it against you. What my family, friends or colleagues might dream is not my concern.

  • Lionel Hutz

    They were never there to begin with. Can you abandon something you never had?

  • carnmoneyguy

    disagree – in 2016, 3 sinn fein and one SDLP had quota on first count, so we don’t know where circa 1100 alliance, workers party and green party votes would have transferred to

    with 5 seats the need for a quota is less important than not being last when there are six candidates left

    dup would be best to offer only one candidate to maximise first preferences

    dup face perfect storm –
    demoralised canvassing staff / volunteers
    core vote pretty secure, but RHI anger will threaten floating supporters to remain at home or switch to TUV / UUP
    UUP / TUV first preferences unlikely to transfer across in same percentages as before
    Scare tactic against Provo first minister reduced to sinn fein first minister

    All other parties have energised staff canvassers
    All other parties getting their vote out as a anti-DUP vote
    Transfers between anti-DUP voters will grow
    Stay at home voters who came out for Brexit vote 90k odd could be energised and likely to vote anti-DUP

  • mickfealty

    You could be right, but by trend I only mean results heretofore…

  • carnmoneyguy

    As there are now 5 seats, 34.6% will not guarantee 2 seats

    will a single dup candidate attract over 7000 votes?

    will sandra overend breach 5000?

    it looks like uup lose, but with RHI factor – all bets off, could see DUP vote fall, and Alliance / UKIP / TUV transfers see Sandra come from behind to take seat off dup

  • Paddy Reilly

    No, 16.66% guarantees one seat, 33.33% guarantees two seats. That is with faultless transferring. However, I cannot fault Unionist transferring. However, 34.6% for the Unionist side is not guaranteed: that is a high score, it’s gone up and down over the years, 30% is also a possibility.

  • mjh

    Good point, carnmoneyguy. It’s certainly not impossible. And it gives us a neat illustration along the way of why it is much easier for SF to take a third seat at the expense of the SDLP rather than from a unionist.

    It takes a 1.5% swing from UUP to SF to give 3SF, 1 SDLP and 1 DUP.

    If the swing is from both parties proportionately ( as it would be for example if it were the result purely of an increase in turnout for SF) then the swing required rises to 2.1%

    However if the UUP hold their vote it would take a 2.3% swing from the DUP to produce the same 3 for SF. Because the UUP had more to spare before they would be reduced below the third SF candidate.

    But this would still result in the DUP taking the seat.

    For the UUP to take that seat from the DUP would require a further loss of votes from the DUP to the UUP equivalent to a 0.2% swing.

    The resultant total drop in the DUP vote and increase in the UUP vote would be equivalent to a swing of 1.4% of the total vote, or 4.0% of the total unionist vote.

    Now just in case that sounds too easy, if some of the additional nationalist votes arriving at the polls went for the SDLP rather than SF it would put the SDLP over quota. Since not all of the surplus would transfer to SF, the swing from unionist to nationalist would need to rise a little accordingly.

  • Tom Burns

    Another election with few if any upsets or significant changes. Personally I believe it’s to unseat the two People before Profit MLAs. Do I care what happens NO! Will I vote NO!

    We would be better with Direct Rule by corrupt Politicians in Westminster and save the NI purse on MLAs and their SPADs salaries.

  • Jollyraj

    Declan possibly. Very similar style.

    Robin, I think not – unless he’s dumbed himself down considerably.

    Assuming you are referring to the late, lamented messrs Doyle and keough.

  • mickfealty

    He’s got the same cheery goodnaturedness…


    Arlene and the D.U P will have to accept that the
    Shinners are there on equal merit,The day of
    prtending to their electorate that the D.U P are a superior race are past.